When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

May 18, 2004

Out Of Context

Bravo Romeo Delta

In Iain Banks' book Excession, he drops a term: "Out-Of-Context Problem." An Out-Of-Context Problem is one that is so wildly bizarre and alien that effective countermeasures are effectively inconceivable (at least at the time). And, as it happens, Out-Of-Context problems quite often pose existential threats to a society.

Think about how a 'cargo cult' would respond if their first contact with the larger world was full-scale nuclear war. They would quite simply die.

Or, for a more capricious example, if you're a BBC producer filming a teatime drama on the banks of the Thames, how do you respond when a gigantic writhing Kraken erupts forth and devours your cast. Pretty clearly, you might want to call the boss and explain that taping will be delayed for reasons far beyond your control.

Now, the post-9/11 environment has been likened, on occasion, to the whole Matrix-esque red bill/blue pill thing. Some folks have taken the red pill and now see the world as one gripped in a titanic struggle between classic western values, such as liberalism and rational scientific enquiry and 7th century mideval tribalism, while others have taken the blue pill, and see no such war.

As a rather perverse twist of fate, the folks who have taken the blue pill seem to think they've taken the red pill, while everyone else has taken the blue pill. But (without prejudice to either side), human self-delusion is sufficiently powerful that there may just not be a way to objectively prove anything on this whole pill issue at all.

But this all starts to obscure the more fundamental nature of 9/11 and its transformational effect on American culture. For some Americans, they think that folks are reacting to the idea that 9/11 itself was an Out-Of-Context problem. This folks, is simply wrong. As bad as 9/11 was, it wasn't truly Out-Of-Context. Countermeasures are conceivable, and it would take an almost unlimited number of 9/11s for the nation to fall.

It was, however, symptomatic of the Out-Of-Context Problem of militant Islamic fascism (or whatever you want to call it). Even to this day, I am not entirely sure we've really adapted to this new context. I am certain that folks who view 9/11 as the problem itself certainly don't grasp the larger looming threat lurking beneath the waters. They are, more or less, like the film producer above who has lost his cast to the Kraken, and wonders about where they're going to get new actors and if he'll have to pay scale. The other type of person will probably be more concerned about what to do with this god-awful creature lurking in the Thames. To take this a bit further, is that the first type of person, confronted with an Out-Of-Context Problem seeks to regain context by redefining the problem in more manageable terms. The second sort of person leaves the problem as is, and runs around trying to get a handle on this new troublesome context.

This all leads to important problems with the whole 9/11 commission and the like. Those who persist in limiting 9/11 to 9/11 itself simply think that this a blip that can be gotten over and we can all return to something resembling status quo ante. For such folks, the idea that the world around us is not the one that we understood on September 10th, 2001, is, to their eyes, propaganda put forth by the administration to provide cover for their nefarious activities.

Folks in the second category see the world through different eyes these days. They see the creature of Islamic fundamentalism cruising through the black and waiting to snatch passerby.

These people also tend to view 9/11 in much the same way I do. September 11th was simply unpreventable. I mean, aside from the fact that the hijackers had violated no laws in the US prior to 9/11, even if they had, somehow, been stopped, a similarly grisly attack of similar scale would have occurred sooner or later. People seem to forget that a plot to hijack 10 trans-Pacific airliners and crash them into the ocean (which would yield ~4,000 dead) was foiled in the late 1990's. No one apparently remembers that an Algerian plot to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower was also stopped some years ago.

In all cases, all the evidence available could, in hindsight, lead one to understand the threat of 9/11. All the bits of evidence, except one, the fact that the problem itself was Out-Of-Context. And, if you think about the nature of Out-Of-Context Problems as being initially beyond the realm of countermeasures, there is another implied result - they are absolutely beyond the realm of preventative measures. Because, if they could be prevented, then they would be foreseeable, and therefore, not Out-Of-Context.

Or, to go back to some previous analogies, it wouldn't make a hell of a lot of sense for any of the characters in the Matrix to pick up a cell phone and ask to learn how to fly a helicopter with the absolute conviction that they would know how in a matter of seconds, unless they had taken the red pill. Or, it doesn't make sense for the Melanesian tribesmen of the cargo cults to start trying to figure out how to make a Geiger counter.

To that end, the transformation in the American mindset, or apprehension of the Out-Of-Context problem, did occur rather quickly. By my count, the transformation was well underway by the time the passengers of Flight 93 opted to fight back, rather than be a willing missile.

And when it gets down to cases, there is no other way, whatsoever, that the transformation could have taken place without the horrific events of that day. For if it were possible, then all of the passengers on all of the planes would have fought back, because we did have (in hindsight) signals about terrorist intent with both the trans-Pacific airliner and Eiffel Tower plots.

The last fear that I have, is that neither the doves nor the hawks have truly taken the red pill, but rather that this is simply a introductory conditioning phase before the real bitter phase starts. Kind of like the pause between the 1948 Berlin blockade and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

UPDATE: Check out Posts by Demosophia and My Pet Jawa on Similar Subject Matters

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at May 18, 2004 02:36 AM
» Demosophia Retaliates with: The Daily Depress
» My Pet Jawa Retaliates with: The "C" Word
» Winds of Change.NET Retaliates with: Know Thine Enemy

Retaliatiory Launches

Excellent post, as always.

Posted by: Rusty Shackleford at May 20, 2004 02:03 PM

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